Friday, July 10, 2015

5/1/86, Thursday and Epilogue

MAY DAY 5/1/86, Thursday

It’s hard to get out of the habit of writing this journal. The drive home last night was like a hallucination, it all felt surreal. There were bright neon lights everywhere announcing bail bonds, fast food, pawn shops, hotels, liquor stores. I couldn't believe how many lights there were. I couldn't even see the sky. It felt like a dark tent illuminated by artificial lights, no stars.

Inside, the car was cold. Bruce picked me up but I can tell that it's over for us. We hugged and kissed and it was friendly enough but when I tried to tell him about my trip he seemed to be somewhere else. We had seven good years but now we seem to have completely different interests. I hoped our time apart would allow us the space to sort things out and maybe make a go of it again but our time apart has just made me realize that we are pulling in different directions. It's sad and I know it will be hard because he was my best friend for so long but I don't feel like crying about it right now.

I don't know if I'm tired, jet lagged, or just suffering from culture shock, possibly it's a combination of all three but I'm feeling out of sorts. Can a person have culture shock returning to her own country? It's weird, I was born here and right now this place feels foreign to me. Things that were once familiar and hardly noticed now stand out in contrast with my recent experiences. There were no roosters and chickens to wake me up this morning, I set my alarm clock instead but I didn't need it because my inner alarm clock woke me up at the right time. I got in my car and drove to the market to buy a box of cereal and a carton of milk. I didn't talk to anyone or say hello to anyone along the way. There was no singing coming from the open windows of neighbor’s houses. I didn't feel the cobblestones beneath my feet as I walked to my destination; instead, I was in a vacuum, in my own little capsule with a radio piping in recorded music. At the market, bright overhead lamps illuminated the abundant, perfectly shiny produce. Shelf after shelf of packaged foods filled the aisles of a building four times the size of a market in Esteli. One aisle, devoted entirely to different varieties of paper included scented and unscented toilet paper in single, medium, or large packs, with flowers printed on them, textured, or plain. We have so much but we're also missing so much.

I left the market with much more than I came for. That's how it works here. I'll put stuff in the cupboards and fridge and hopefully I'll eat it, but half the time my fresh fruits and vegetables rot. It's strange, in Nicaragua my family and most of our neighbors did not have a refrigerator and it forced us to eat fresh food in season and to share and cooperate with our neighbors. Here, we don't have to do that. We are free to isolate ourselves, free to waste. It makes me wonder if we own our conveniences or if they own us. I've always sort of felt like a loner anyway so maybe this works best for me and yet it felt good to share and cooperate.

Truthfully, I'm confused. I eat a bowl of cereal while watching TV, something I've done nearly my whole life, and I'm unable to focus on the program. There is a part of me that wants to stay in the present. There is a part of me that does not want to escape into the fantasy on the television. There is a part of me that affirms that I don't need the simulation of life that TV and movies provide. In Nicaragua, people were living in the present, fully engaged in whatever they were doing at the time they were doing it. I already miss that. Some people might pity them: poor things - they have no TV but having no TV means they can ignore the simulation and focus on real life.

5/1/86, Thursday

I'm ready for bed. Work was uneventful. I got my classroom set up and my lesson plans are all done. There was a little cloud of melancholy that hung over my head all day. I guess part of it was knowing that today is May Day and that back in Nicaragua everybody would be celebrating their revolution, their freedom, their autonomy. Here, it's just another work day, except for me...because inside of me there's a revolution, there's a permanent change that won't let me fall back into the stupor.

I'm awake.



My revolution happened from the inside out over a prolonged period of time. It started with my visit to Nicaragua and continues every day of my life. There's always a news story, a personal interaction, or a provocative idea that requires me to face the world as a teacher/student, that requires me to step outside my comfort zone and engage in praxis.

As I was editing this journal, I started thinking about how much time has passed between now and when it was written. The places and people I describe have all changed but the lessons I learned taught me what it means to be strong, showed me the limitations of wealth, the value of dialogue, and the importance of fostering and developing critical consciousness. Those lessons feel timeless.

While I was in Nicaragua, I questioned my ability to make the huge changes I knew needed to be made. I wanted to stop President Reagan from funding the Contras. I wanted to bring Comandante Gladys Baez to the United States so she could inspire others. I wanted to change our educational system so that it focused on critical thinking rather than simply depositing facts. All those things seemed like they were beyond my control. I suppose that it might have made sense to go back to my old ways and accept defeat, but I couldn't. I had seen David take on Goliath and I started looking for my own slingshot.

As soon as I got back, I started making changes in my teaching style to include more dialogue and I structured my reading classes so that they went from concrete to abstract. That was a short lived party because training children for taking tests became a priority of my employers and made it difficult for me to provide the type of education that did more than create receptacles for filling. I didn't want to program students, I wanted to help them think for themselves.

I've come to understand that before policy changes can take place, the population's understanding of education has to change, values have to change. My opportunity to change the world begins with me and extends as far as the ideas I manage to share with others. I hope my spark of revolution can ignite the process of critical consciousness in you. I hope that as you read my diary, you questioned your own beliefs, mine, and any beliefs which have been deposited into you through the banking method.

I leave you with a final thought: the revolution starts within.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

4/30/86, Wednesday

4/30/86, Wednesday

I've said all my goodbyes and I'm flying home today. I'm convinced that Nicaragua is a special place, different from any other place I've ever been. I can't quite put my finger on it, except that I can feel its heartbeat as though it was a living creature, a newborn baby eager to stand on its own two feet and take its place in the world.

The flight is already an hour late but it's on Nica time and so am I. I could live here... maybe. Better yet, maybe I can take a little bit of this spirit with me and infuse it into my own country. Looks like we're finally boarding.

Looking out the window, my eyes fill with tears when I think of what I'm leaving behind. I've fallen in love with Nicaragua, with its people, their ideas, their tenacity. How did they do it? How did they manage to become so strong and so determined as to overthrow the oligarchies and to continue to fight for autonomy despite pressure from a country as rich and powerful as the United States?

They're an inspiration. El Amanecer del Pueblo, the title of the literacy textbook means “the dawn or awakening of a people.” How appropriate. I wonder, once you've been awakened, can you ever go back to sleep? I wouldn't think so, but then, why isn't this feeling of self determination more common when there have been revolutions all over the world throughout history? Do people fall back asleep, lulled by complacency?

We're being told we have to get off the plane in San Salvador. I thought we'd stay on the plane and fly directly to Houston but that's not the case.

I'm in the air again, we just took off from a stop in San Salvador where we had to get off and go through customs before continuing on to Houston. Waiting in San Salvador airport, my stomach gave a little twist when a fully armed Salvadoran soldier walked by me. I'm wearing a tee shirt with the image of Augusto Sandino and my carry-on bag is full of FMLN plaques, buttons, and pendants made by me and others at the Salvadoran art collective in Esteli. Basically, I was a walking billboard for the overthrow of the Salvadoran government. Maybe I'm just being paranoid but I heard so many horror stories from the Salvadoran refugees who I worked with at the collective and on the farm about the ruthless police and military tactics used against anyone who questions the government that I felt pretty scared. Anyway, I'm glad we're in the air now. I'm feeling a little bit queasy. I don't understand why, I hardly ate anything this morning except for sugary lemonade, a piece of pastry, some orange juice, and a couple of cookies...maybe I did eat the wrong thing.

I hope Bruce remembers to pick me up in L.A.. I wonder how I'll feel about being back in the U.S.. It’s like traveling from one world to another. Even though I've been living there for most of my life, I have a feeling it will all seem different to me now. I'm sure my thinking has changed. I've changed. 

I keep thinking about how people would sometimes mistake me for Nicaraguan. I felt Nicaraguan. I dressed, ate, lived, breathed, dreamed and even began to talk Nicaraguan. Some people said I had a Mexican accent and kidded me about it but for the most part I was treated like a “compa." I still remember the first time Francie called me a compa - a compañera, a companion in struggle. Shortly after that, other people started to call me compa and I felt so happy to be included, to be able to share their revolution. The word was like a tiny pipe bomb in my soul, shattering my deluded and sheltered view of the world.

There is a Nica saying: "Entre Los Pueblos, No Hay Fronteras”: Between people, there are no borders. I've met so many people here from all over the world who are volunteers, writers, activists, people from all walks of life who want to help and see self-determination succeed. Some may see themselves as proletariat internationalists but others are just idealists who think that success here means success in other places is possible.

I don't think we could have this kind of revolutionary change in the United States, at least not now. I remember reading Brave New World many years ago in school and thinking that Soma comes in so many forms. Most of us in the U.S. have our basic needs met. Food, shelter, and TV are the Soma of the working class. We have just enough to keep us in a complacent stupor. We're missing enough discomfort to provoke change.

We're landing in Belize, so I've gotta take a break. I wish I had some film so I could take a picture of this tiny Belize airport!

Back in business. They handed out mani a little while ago, which looks a bit like a peanut but they're so hard, it's like no peanut I've ever eaten. Nothing's quite the same in Central America. I'm giving up on these before I break a tooth. I'm still queasy anyway. It’s ironic that when I was in Nica I never felt sick to my stomach despite all the homemade food I was eating and now that I'm on the plane eating "healthy," hygienically packaged food I feel a little ill. Maybe it's just that my system was used to running on beans, tortillas, coffee, and lots and lots of sugar! I did find out that sugar is rationed but you're allowed approximately two pounds of sugar per person per week. Jesus, what kind of diet would they have if it wasn't rationed? Here's a bit of trivia: toilet paper is rationed at 2 rolls per family per month. Beer is considered a luxury but ron is the people's drink. No wonder we drank it so often. I'm going to miss Flor de Caña, I hope I can find it in the U.S..

I'm a little worried by all these stops. The fact that the initial flight out of Managua was late will delay our arrival into Houston. I don't want to miss my connecting flight to Los Angeles or end up sleeping in the airport! I inadvertently passed through an x-ray machine carrying my purse back in Managua. All my exposed film was in the purse. I hope the film isn't damaged. It would be so sad if all my pictures were ruined. I want to be able to share this experience and it will all be easier to remember with the photos and the diary. Although, I can't imagine forgetting any of it. Esteli has left a mark on me.

I'm going to try to take a nap and I'll write again later.

I'm on my way to L.A. now. I barely made my flight! We got into Houston late and I had to go through customs before catching the connecting flight. The lines were enormous. When I walked up to the immigration officer, he asked me if I had been on a farm and I had to say yes. He sent me into a different section where a more thorough investigation of my farm visitation could be discussed. The section was coded red and in my mind that meant stop. I was cursing inwardly for not lying about where I'd been but they walked me over to the red section and I noticed that the non-restricted green section, where everyone else was being sent, was super congested while the red section was just me. I walked over to the inspection area and the customs officer smiled at me. He wasn't stressed because nobody was in his line. I smiled back, instantly at ease.

"So you were on a farm?" he asked.


"What did you do on the farm?"

"Plant tomatoes."

"Is that all?"

I thought for a minute.


He laughed, opened my suitcase, picked up a blouse, tossed it back in and told me to have a nice day.

"I'll do that if I manage to catch my flight!" I said, remembering that missing it was a distinct possibility.

"Which flight are you supposed to catch?" the customs officer asked, flagging someone from the airport to come over and help me. The woman quickly checked on my flight.

"You're about to miss it!" she said, genuinely concerned. She flagged a cart over and asked the driver to rush me to the boarding gate. "I'll let them know you're on your way."

The flight attendant was literally holding the door for me. She looked annoyed. "Hurry, hurry, you're holding up the flight!"

I ran in, shoved my stuff in the overhead and buckled up. 

Next stop, L.A.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

4/29/86, Tuesday

4/29/86, Tuesday

Walking around Managua this morning, there is electricity in the air. Everyone is getting ready for the big May Day celebration. A few of the people that have been checking into the Norma have come specifically because they want to be in Managua for May Day. I'm so bummed that I'm going to miss it but I have to fly back home.

I spent some time in the early afternoon with a group of internationalists who were painting banners for tomorrow's festivities. Throughout the city, the hostels are full with people from all over the world. Black and red Sandinista flags are everywhere. I saw a woman on the street selling tee shirts with an image of Sandino in his large hat. I'm not a tee shirt fan but I bought one. I think I'll wear it home tomorrow. I managed to resist the impulse to act like a tourist until the last day.

In the evening we ended up back at the Yerba Buena where we were treated to an unexpected speech by a guy who claimed to be the P.L.O.  (Palestinian Liberation Organization) Ambassador to Nicaragua. Does the P.L.O. even have an embassy? It was an interesting charla because the guy defied all my preconceived notions of what a member of the P.L.O. would be like and by that I mean he was not a madman. He was actually very reasonable. He told us about the plight of the Palestinian people and how many of them have lost their ancestral homeland through the creation of the Israeli state.

Yasser Arafat of the P.L.O.

The speaker tried to disassociate himself and the P.L.O. from any terrorist activities, blaming it all on the Israeli secret police despite the fact that the P.L.O. has on several occasions, at least to the best of my knowledge, accepted responsibility for such actions. He was a persuasive speaker and seemed to be sincere, but I don't know if I can believe what he said. It’s just completely at odds with everything I thought I knew. In any case, I'm willing to at least listen to another side of the story.

It seems that quite a few people at the Yerba Buena (though not all) supported the Palestinian guy. He got a warm round of applause. Maybe I’m completely wrong about the P.L.O. You would think that as a person of Mexican heritage living in the United States I'd be able to relate to the idea that someone can take your land and then call you a foreigner. I do, of course but I'm also an American who sometimes benefits from my country's actions, whether I agree with them or not. My visits to Yerba Buena always seem to leave me feeling more confused than anything else. Maybe there's something in that drink! Oh yeah, there's a healthy dose of rum.

Upon reflection: Although I had been brought up to question authority, I didn't realize that I had assumed my sources of information were unbiased. I had bestowed authority on the news media. The Yerba Buena provided an opportunity for Dialogic, for dialogue between equals whose arguments could be evaluated based on reason and validity rather than acceptance of claims based on power or authority.

Monday, July 6, 2015

4/28/86, Monday

4/28/86, Monday

I'm so mad at Carrie right now. We managed to keep a safe distance from each other while we were in Esteli but here in Managua, we see a lot more of each other and she gets on my nerves. A group of us were riding in the back of a truck when I saw Carrie staring at me.

"What's up?" I asked her.

"You managed to keep your lipstick on and your legs shaved the whole time you were here," she said.

"And you managed to keep your legs hairy and your lips chapped," I said.

What followed was a little lecture about how makeup and shaving were tools to keep women oppressed. She sees herself as much more serious about the causes she embraces because she isn't concerned with her appearance. The thing is, she seems very concerned with what people think of her and other people's appearances. She had the audacity to make a crack about Francie wearing earrings with her olive drab uniform and I almost lost it. I moved within inches of her face and told her to shut up. People asked us to calm down and moved between us.

I remember having a conversation with Francie where she mentioned that I was much more like Nicaraguan women than like American women. I asked her why and she answered that it was not only because of my command of the language but because many of the American women at the school didn't shave their legs or groom themselves. I hadn't even noticed. All of Francie's daughters had pierced ears and they all wore earrings like I do. The older girls wear lipstick and shave their legs. 

I think I understand where Carrie is coming from, I really do. I can see how people can become slaves to society's expectations, I think that happens in many ways. But I don't feel particularly oppressed by my appearance, in fact, I think that my appearance has often been a source of creative expression for me. Even as a kid I enjoyed dressing up, pretending to be a hula girl, or a mod in my plastic raincoat and matching boots. It's not the main focus of my existence but it is an undeniable part of me. I don't feel like I have to dress conservatively to satisfy convention but I also don't want to feel like I have to dress a certain way to defy convention. There are many ways to thwart oppression and succumbing to new oppressors is not the best way!

I remember the conversation I had with my little sister Paca about society's imposed standards of beauty. I can see why Francie wanted her to put up the working woman's photo along with the magazine model photos. We can't ignore the outside world, we have to look at the information and figure out what it means to us. Francie didn't want to force the girls to take down their pictures, instead she wanted them to have an example of a different kind of beauty for comparison. She doesn't want to indoctrinate, she wants the girls to think for themselves.

I don't care whether Carrie shaves her legs, I just want her to stop acting so superior and let the rest of us choose our own appearance.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated March 1980

"I always believe that the cause of this (suffering) is social injustice. They (the rich and powerful) cling to privileges that they can no longer have because the people are very aware and they must realize that they must change the entire system. They maintain this system with the power of money and the military forces."

Óscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated March 1980

Friday, July 3, 2015

4/27/86, Sunday

4/27/86, Sunday

This afternoon, a small group of the remaining NICA students and some of our newfound friends from the Norma went to La Yerba Buena, a sort of coffee house/bookstore. The books and political pamphlets are for sale but people seem to use this place as a library and printed material is scattered throughout. Yerba Buena sells coffee but the best drink here is the Yerba Buena, a cold mint drink with a healthy dose of rum. There was a poet reading when we first got here and when he was done, our group launched into a discussion of the situation in Libya, in reaction to a radio talk show we'd heard earlier in the day.

The U.S. bombed Libya a couple of weeks ago in retaliation for Libya's bombing of a German disco which Americans were known to frequent. Shortly after that, the Barricada published a copy of a letter that President Daniel Ortega sent to Muammar Gaddafi expressing his sympathy and support. I don't really know what to make of the whole thing. My impression of Gaddafi has been completely based on U.S. news reports. I've always seen him as hostile to Americans. I see Daniel Ortega as someone trying to defend his own country from intervention and I imagine Gaddafi sees himself the same way, but to go out of your way to attack Americans who are not in your country just seems like aggression. 

Then again, just because Ronald Reagan says that Libyans are our enemies doesn't make it so. In fact, I don't trust our president at all. I don't really know if I'm getting the whole story here, anymore than I would if I were in the U.S.. I used to think that the press was impartial but time and time again I see that it isn’t. It’s not impartial in the U.S. and it certainly isn’t in Nicaragua either. I’m not sure what to believe in anymore. When I was in Esteli, I could believe in the people. I saw how they behaved, how they aligned their actions to their revolutionary ideals, but big political machines anywhere are something altogether different.

The U.S. bombing of Tripoli was plastered over every front page and people here are still talking about it. I don't understand why Libya would bomb a place where there would be civilians in order to get at a few U.S. soldiers. It's criminal! It's just as horrible to bomb Gaddafi's residence and kill his baby daughter. I wouldn't support either action. I tend to think that both Gaddafi and Reagan are a little crazy.

How do you pick a side when both sides are wrong? What is a terrorist? I hear the word used so much and I'm getting really confused. I'm starting to think it's just a name to call your enemy when they attack you outside the battlefield, but then where is the battlefield? Is there an economic battlefield? I guess there is because that's what an embargo is. Also, the Contra war has a great deal to do with the economic problems of this country, since fifty percent of the national budget goes towards defense. I wonder if we are economically at war with other countries in a more covert way than I can imagine?

My father likes to say that all wars have to do with money. I hate to be cynical but I'm starting to think he may be right.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

4/25/86 and 4/26/86, Friday and Saturday

4/25/86, Friday

We practiced our song all afternoon. It's a really cool song but it sure has a lot of words. In the end, we decided that each person would only sing one verse and then we'd all join in on the chorus and that worked out well. Everyone at the despedida knew the song and sang with us. It was powerful with everyone yelling "¡Presente!"

After our performances, our host parents shared stories about things they'd done with their "son" or "daughter" and everyone shared something they'd learned from the experience. It dawned on me that I had come to Nicaragua dreading the experience of having to live with strangers. I would have much preferred to stay in a hotel. I didn't realize that living with these families and coming to think of them as our parents, brothers, or sisters was a big part of what we had to learn. I was touched that my friends from the Salvadoran art collective showed up. They gave me a little painting of a Salvadoran landscape and several painted seeds pendants they'd made for me, plus a bunch of FMLN pins and literature for me to take home and share with my friends. 

Hold on. I hear some music outside my door.

Guess what? I was minding my own business, writing in my journal when Lenin, my little sister Carelia's boyfriend, brought me a serenata. He and one of his friends came by with a guitar and sat outside my door singing. I could see Carelia peeking from her room. It was really sweet and it would have been romantic if it had been an actual love interest serenading me instead of my little sister's boyfriend! But it was still a brand new experience for me. Truthfully, I can't imagine a guy back home doing anything like this. They sang all kinds of romantic songs for me and even a couple of upbeat ones at the end. My friend, Nancy, from the school came over about halfway through the serenade and sat on the doorstep with me and near the end Francie came out too. Carelia's great to conjure this up for me and Lenin is a sweetheart to go along with it. I bet I'm the only NICA student who got a serenade. 

4/26/86, Saturday

I'm back in Managua at Hospedaje Norma. We must have gotten the worst room in the place but I'm too tired to care. I woke up at 5:30 this morning, I just couldn't sleep. Francie said she had to take a sleeping pill because she couldn't sleep either. This morning we all cried and hugged and kissed. I feel as though I'm being ripped in two. I really started to think of myself as part of this family. I love these people more than I would have ever thought possible. I miss them right now and I've only been gone half a day. I guess it's knowing that I won't be seeing them for a long time that makes my heart ache. I intend to come back to Nicaragua as soon as I can.

When we got to Managua, a few of us went to the Robert Weimbus market for some shopping. Some people fly out tonight, others within the next few days. Many of the students want to take something back to a friend or family member. I didn't buy much, just a few postcards and some candy. Managua feels very different from Esteli, it doesn't have that neighborly feel that Esteli has and I found myself walking around the market wishing Lisette was with me to share the candy. 

In the afternoon, I said goodbye to Nancy and Audrey. I'll miss them. Audrey in particular has been my best friend during this trip. She goes back to Boston and I don't know when I'll see her again. More tears. To cheer ourselves up, a small group of us decided to go to a restaurant called Pizza Boom that some of the kids in this neighborhood said was really good. It wasn’t. With pop music playing loudly over the speakers and colorful decor, I could see why kids would like it but they served the worst pizza I've ever had. 

As we were sitting and not eating our pizza, the conversation went back to an incident that happened a few days ago. There had been a heinous suspected Contra attack in a place called Santa Cruz, just a few miles from Esteli. The reason I say that it was a "suspected" Contra incident is that despite the fact that everybody is pointing the finger at the Contras, I can't understand the logic of hacking up a little boy and an old lady with a machete. What could be the reason for that? How does it benefit anyone's cause? I don't like the Contras but it seems to me that people always want to blame every crime on them. I mean, the incident a few weeks back with the poisoning of the children in Condega is still being investigated, yet the rumor that the Contras poisoned the food is already being circulated. I wonder if some child killer is running around free and happy that the Contras are the prime suspects?